Monthly Archives: Apr 2019

Forward Chess

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“I studied chess from books” is what Sergey Shipov writes in his book On Life and Chess. I can say the same.

When I say “book” I still have the mental image of a paper book. So back in the day I would sit on my bed, with the magnetic chess set in front of me, the book in my lap and I would read and execute the moves on the board, analysing, trying to understand the secrets of the game. A very pleasant process, I must say.

I wish I had the time to go over that process again sometimes. Even though I’ve gone a long way since those times, I still have a lot to learn. The last time I did this was back in 2013 when I sat with a chess board and went over all the games from the London-Leningrad 1986 Karpov-Kasparov match using Kasparov’s book and then scored a great result at the Paleochora tournament.

Everything is fast today. And everything is on the phone. So the people from Forward Chess came up with the idea to put the books in your phone and enable you to move the pieces as if on a physical board.

A logical idea, undoubtedly, but how convenient is that? There are many apps out there where you can play chess and move the pieces, how comfortable is to use it as a part of a reading process?

Initially I was skeptical. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer a physical board in front of me! So reluctantly I downloaded the app and tested it.

I expected to feel frustrated by looking at the tiny pieces and trying to read at the same time, but imagine my surprise when I actually felt comfortable reading the free sample books provided in the app.

I am no expert, so I cannot explain technically what made that comfortable feeling, but I was aware of the clarity of the screen, the sharp letters and the pleasing, familiar (Chessbase-style) look of the chess board and pieces placed above the text.

That was the first surprise.

The second one was that the process of reading and following the moves on the board was very easy. Whenever there is a game or even a move in the text you can click on it and it would immediately appear on the board.

Immediately I wanted to see how this works for the most variation-dense books. Luckily there was a free sample from Avrukh’s Grandmaster Repertoire 2A – King’s Indian and Grunfeld – you don’t get more dense than that!

So I opened it and wanted to see if I can follow the lines without getting lost. And it worked! I could go deeply into the lines and go back, either by clicking the forward/backward arrows or simply on the move I wanted to see. Rather conveniently, on each fork in the variation, next to the board a box appears to show you the possible options in that positions, all clickable.

As a bonus to all this there is also an option to use an engine (Stockfish) while reading and going over the lines. Even more, you can try your own moves and analyse on your own with the engine, trying other moves than the ones given in the book. This last option is a crucial one in my opinion – I don’t think it happens only to me when I don’t really get it why a certain move is played and not another one. Then is the perfect moment to make the move on the chessboard and ask the engine about it!

There are many other customisable options which I didn’t need – taking notes, adding bookmarks, sync-ing between devices (it can be used both on a phone and a desktop machine), night mode, piece and board styles and sizes, different fonts etc. In short, you’re invited to make the app your own.

The choice of books on offer in the app is quite big (over 300) and is ever increasing. You can see a free sample from any book before purchasing. A few of my favourites are Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, which I think is ideal for endgame training and improving your play in theoretical endgames, the Avrukh books, Game Changer by Sadler and Regan, The Shereshevsky Method by Shereshevsky (a compilation of his books), the Aagaard books (the GM Preparation: Calculation I am still using for training), Edouard’s Magic Years with Topalov (which I would like to read when I have more time!), Gelfand’s Dynamic Decision Making in Chess, Shipov’s On Life and Chess mentioned at the beginning (which is completely free) to name but a few. There are so many and on every topic imaginable that you’d be better off to take a look yourself!

I am quite happy to recommend the Forward Chess app. I use it and I feel good when I do. Give it a try, you may find yourself spending more time reading, analysing an eventually improving!


My European Championship 2019 – Part III

In Round 9 I was White against GM Santos Ruiz, rated 2560 and one of Spain’s brightest prospects. I noticed he had some problems in the Ruy Lopez and I expected him to switch to the Najdorf, his other main opening. I again managed to use a line I’ve never played before but I had prepared.

A crazy game where I played with utmost aggression. I must admit that I enjoyed it and the fact that I didn’t lose also felt good. Still, my sacrifices were speculative at best and objectively speaking I should have lost. But this game confirmed to me a very important thing – when you put pressure on your opponents, even if it’s only a psychological one (as in this case, when the moves weren’t good but I was “attacking”) they are rarely able to deal with it properly. This was definitely the most fun game I played in the whole tournament.

The game with Santos gave me positive vibes and I was optimistic for the next round when I was paired against another young and talented player, 17-year old Russian IM Lomasov, rated 2559. He had already beaten players like Gelfand and Short, but I didn’t need a warning to take him seriously.

I noticed that he played the sharpest 6 Bg5 against the Najdorf and I wanted to invite him to sharp play, especially as he probably wouldn’t be expecting it. But I also knew that he can easily deviate from that, in spite of not being his repertoire, so I checked the popular alternatives on move 6 as well. The opening showed that I was spot on.

I was better out of the opening, but then I misevaluated the position several times and lost. It was a pity, because the opening really gave me good chances, but I have to admit that he understood the position better at the critical moments. I was disappointed and even followed the modern trends of not resigning until almost mate.

With this loss I was back at 50% and in the last round I got the same rating range as in Rounds 6-8 – a 2283 FM from Spain, Ibanez Aullana. At least he was older than me, so I could count on less energy and (hopefully) less resistance.

But things went sour immediately. I prepared well but when he played a dubious line I relaxed and continued to make normal-looking moves when all of a sudden I was worse!

A strange game in sense how abruptly the evaluation changed: first White got worse from a perfectly normal position and then all of a sudden Black was facing huge problems after the transposition to the endgame. I played the first part of the game badly, I started to put up resistance when I realised I was worse and then I played the endgame well.

With this win I finished on +1, with 6 points out of 11. I tried to give my best and it seems that my best now looks like this. I would have liked to play better against the stronger players, but I lacked the consistency during the game in order to match their quality of moves. The positive aspect was my inner feeling of being at least equal to them and my resolve to go for a win in every game.

I think that this will be my last European Championship. As life evolves I have less and less time to devote resources to preparation and spending 2 weeks away to play a very expensive tournament. Since this one was played in my home city I thought I should give it one last try and for a last try it was a decent one, especially compared to the others.

I haven’t abandoned my desire to improve at chess. I only have to become more intelligent about it, as with less time I will need to work smarter. This tournament gave me excellent feedback and I hope to be able to use it in the future. Without any tournaments planned for now it is not clear when I could use this feedback, but the time will come. Then we will see if I learned my lessons.


My European Championship 2019 – Part II

After the two losses I was paired with a lower rated opponent. In Round 5 I was facing WGM Maltsevskaya, 16-year old Russian talent rated 2252 and a World Champion for girls under 20 from 2018.

The game turned out to be much easier than expected as she didn’t know anything in the opening. Still, it lasted long enough to prevent me from resting a bit more.

I noticed that in modern chess the old notion of respect and resigning in lost positions is largely gone. Especially the young generation just plays until the end, even absurdly so. It is the Carlsen influence and I made the mistake of not adjusting to this change. This cost me dearly in the next round.

After the rest day, in Round 6, I was paired with another young player, FM Zlatin, rated 2243. He had a limited repertoire with a few dubious lines and I targeted one of those.

Of course, there is no excuse for not winning this. I was too relaxed and perhaps too amused. But I know that these feelings never help during a game of chess and this was shown one more time. You cannot (and shouldn’t) toy with your opponent, it’s best for both if you just put him out of his misery, because as long as there is life (he’s in the game) there is hope.

In retrospect, this game was in a way a turning point, not so much for the result, but for the quality of play. Had I won, I would have played stronger opposition again and this would have forced me to raise the level of my play. But starting with my next game I was lost, or nearly lost, in all my remaining games. Even though I was feeling the same I couldn’t keep up the quality of my moves and there were major ups and downs in evaluations, from winning to losing and everything in between.

I think this game affected me more than I thought. I know all too well from open tournaments that when I fail to win against a lower rated opponent in the next round I get a similar one who puts more resistance and if I keep not winning each next opponent is a more difficult one in spite of their ratings being lower.

Even though I knew this I still couldn’t readjust and the next round was perhaps the worst game I played in the whole tournament.

Round 7 brought an almost identical type of player – a youngster from the same country (Israel) with the practically same rating, 2245. My preparation was great, I may have even managed to refute an important line, but I followed up badly and all the effort went to waste.

A crazy game, but one with very low quality. I was missing a lot of moves and I only started to fight when I was dead lost. I was lucky to manage to confuse him in the complications, though he was winning until the very end.

As described above, following the pattern and life giving me another chance to prove I’m able to beat somebody, in Round 8 I got another lower rated player, Polatel, rated 2220. And things only got more difficult as this time I risked in the opening and was lucky not to be punished. Still, he was fighting hard throughout the whole game and outplayed me in the middlegame.

Another awful game, I was exhausted when it finished. The only positive thing about it was that I won. After two missed chances against lower-rated players I finally won a game and now I was going to be paired with stronger opposition. I was worried about it, because I saw that my level dropped and that I’m playing worse than in the first half of the tournament.


My European Championship 2019 – Part I

I expected it to be tough and it was. Just that I didn’t expect it would be so from the very beginning.

Generally speaking my result at the tournament was acceptable. Even though I performed around my rating and scored a +1 (6 out of 11) and it was by far my most successful European Championship (the previous three being complete catastrophies), I cannot say it was a great success. I will try to explain what was happening in every game and why I think so.

Being ranked at the bottom of the first half in Round 1 I was paired with one of the lowest ranked players in the whole tournament. I expected a smooth sailing, but it wasn’t.

The players are just more resilient at this tournament, I don’t know if it’s the fact that they’re playing a continental championship and that makes them proud and more motivated. In any case, nobody folds, nobody gives up. My game from Round 1 is a typical case. My opponent was rated 1690, but even though he was inferior in positional understanding and allowed me to obtain an advantage, he simply wasn’t blundering and that meant that I had to work hard to win. The game lasted for almost 5 hours.

After the game I remember that I thought something like “if I had to play for so long and work so hard against a 1690-rated player, then what awaits me next?”

But I was psychologically ready for hard games in every single round and I think that helped me. Just a small fast forward: the average length of my games was 57 moves, the shortest one 37 moves and the longest one 106 moves.

In Round 2 I was already playing strong opposition. GM Paichadze from Georgia was rated 2576. He wasn’t very strong theoretically, but was very good at technical chess. This meant that I had to use my good preparation to get a good game, but unfortunately I messed it up.

What to feel after a game like this? I wasn’t sure – I was lost soon after the opening, then I fought back, then I missed my chances to equalise, then I fought back again, then I missed my drawing chance in the endgame and in the end I was lucky. I was playing both well, when having to fight back, and badly, when having to actually capitalise on the previous effort. It is not a good sign when you miss your chances, plus I was tired after another long game.

In Round 3 I got paired against another strong player, GM Hracek, rated 2578. In my preparation I noted his extremely solid repertoire so it was difficult to find a spot where to hit. Eventually I decided to surprise him with a line that I’ve never played before but one that I had prepared.

A strange game. During the game I thought I was doing alright for most of the time, but the engine disagrees completely and gives Black an advantage from the start. Such a huge disproportion in the evaluation rarely happens and even now I’m not sure that the engine is entirely right. My impression of the game was that I was fighting on equal terms and I made the decisive mistake in time-trouble, while following the engine evaluations it appears I was worse after the opening and then I only got a few chances at equality which I didn’t take.

Round 4 brought the third strong GM – Onischuk, rated 2626. He had a limited repertoire and almost always stuck to his lines. This was a good opportunity to take advantage of it with a precise preparation, but unfortunately I messed it up.

After returning home after the game I realised that the scenario was identical to the game with Hracek – I thought I was fighting well and the position was around equal, while the engine said I was mostly much worse and I missed a couple of equalising chances. The decisive mistake was again made in time-trouble.

The two losses in a row against strong opponents didn’t discourage me. I was more convinced in my own feeling that I was playing OK than the engine evaluations. What bothered me was that I was lost in all three games and I was never in a situation to try for more.

By this point in the tournament I also realised that I am suffering from severe insomnia. There were objective and subjective factors for this. The objective ones were that the appartment where I was staying was on one of the busiest boulevards in the city and even with earplugs I could hear the busses and cars all night. The subjective ones were that I got into the hectic rhythm of preparing, eating, playing, sleeping and I couldn’t find a way to break out of it. The few times I managed to switch the laptop off earlier I got better sleep and felt more rested, but these were rare.